18 August 2015
Every suffering is a seed, because suffering compels us to seek wisdom. ~ Bodhidharma
After reading my posts last week, a friend asked me if I was in a dark place. I hesitated in my answer. It wasn’t an easy ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It was both.
I wrote last week about ‘dark’ places. Now I’m going to defend them. Because I believe there is wisdom that comes from grappling with difficult choices rather than necessarily following a common path. There is a humility in seeing our own weaknesses that allows connection with others on a deeper level. And, I think at the end of the day, most of us cherish wisdom and connection.
I know I do. So, I want to support the effort it takes to shoulder down into dark, still territory. This year-long blog journey I’ve embarked on was prompted by my desire to explore what creates a richly satisfying life. There are hints about this, bread crumbs through the forest, in those quiet, reflective, and sometimes uncomfortable, places.
The ability to absorb loss with grace, the willingness to let our hearts feel both pain and euphoria, the generosity of spirit that allows us to give caring and forgive trespass, seem to me to be qualities of such a life. Sometimes these kind of qualities come easily. Other times, the wherewithal to act accordingly needs to be rooted firmly in the soil of strong, hard-won intention.
This is what our heroes do.
Studying mythical archetypes, Joseph Campbell broke down the stages of the hero’s journey. The path begins in our hero’s (gender neutral) ordinary world when a challenge is laid before her (or him). Initially our hero may walk away from the gauntlet, but eventually the challenge becomes too compelling, the stakes too high to ignore. So she begins her endeavor, crossing a threshold into another world where the rules are different, the game itself twisted, and the odds skewed. There are external struggles, but very importantly, she is also presented with moral dilemmas that test her in ways she’s never been tested before. Ultimately, at great cost and usually with the help of comrades, she prevails, developing new strength and wisdom in the process.
It’s easy to think heroes are more able to endure these crucibles because they are better than us — stronger, smarter, more adept. However, that misses the point. The true hero is not better than us. The triumph is that she is better than she was before.
In some way, big or small, she faced her weakness, and came out better for doing so. In some way, big or small, we can do the same. We can let life help us be a little better.
Like every hero, we may turn away from difficulty at first, but ultimately if we want our lives to be our own, time spent separating ourselves from the noise and speed and coercion of culture will help us reflect on what we want our lives to represent, to support and help, to value and honor.
None of this, not one bit, is intended to detract from the absolute amazing glory of life’s bountiful plate. Of the omnipresent opportunity for joy, heightened perhaps by our sense of limit and mortality. Every day, even one in which internal struggles are weighty, is a day worthy of gratitude. Maybe on these quieter, internal days we can put our steps out the door at sunset and find solace in the beauty the world ladles at our feet. Perhaps especially on those days we are more attuned to struggle, we might notice someone in need of a helping hand and offer it.
So let us value all our days. Our struggles and our joys. And each step of our journey that takes us closer to who we want to be.